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A Flowering Tree

by Chiho Iuchi

American opera director Peter Sellars will stage the Japanese premiere of “A Flowering Tree” in Tokyo on Dec. 6.

Although many people think of opera as old-fashioned, it has evolved with the times. With composers and directors pouring blood, sweat and tears into finding new possibilities for this traditional Western musical art, opera holds wide appeal for contemporary audiences.

Sellars is one such artist, renowned worldwide for bringing many 20th-century and contemporary operas to the stage, including works by Olivier Messaien, Paul Hindemith and Osvaldo Golijov. Sellars has been also noted for his innovative interpretations of Mozart.

“A Flowering Tree” was composed by John Adams, an American composer and Sellars’ longtime collaborator, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. It was premiered under Sellars’ direction in November 2006 in Vienna as part of the New Crowned Hope Festival, for which Sellars served as artistic director. Rather than performing masterpieces by Mozart himself, Sellars attempted to re-create what this 18th-century genius might have thought, imagined or dreamed about through new commissioned music focusing on the subjects found in Mozart’s final works.

Based on a Tamil folktale from South India, “A Flowering Tree” tells the story of a young peasant girl who has the magical ability to turn herself into the titular flowering tree. Inspired by Mozart’s final opera, “The Magic Flute,” the production tackles the subjects of love, transformation and trial, performed by three singers — the heroine Kumudha, the prince and the storyteller. The songs are accompanied by the powerful and colorful sound of the orchestra as well as three dancers who express the feelings of the characters with traditional Indonesian dance.

Sellars is coming to Japan at the end of November to rehearse with the singers and dancers, as well as the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, with which he collaborated in 2003 for a Japan staging of another Adams’ opera, “El Nin~o.” Among the original members of the world premiere in 2006, soprano Jessica Rivera as Kumudha, tenor Russell Thomas as the Prince and three dancers will perform at the upcoming concert in Japan.

“A Flowering Tree” takes place Dec. 6 at the Suntory Hall in Akasaka, Tokyo. Doors open at 5 p.m., and Peter Sellars will give a preconcert talk at 5:15 p.m. Tickets are ¥5,000-10,000. Call Tokyo Symphony Ticket Center (044) 520-1511 or visit www.tokyosymphony.com